A French Christmas 

This year was the first time the boys had experienced Christmas in France. It was an opportunity to do things a bit differently, being away from home, living in someone else’s house, visiting others and sharing the Christmas festivities with French friends.

It helps that Christmas in France is in the winter – with the dark and the cold, it fits all the prevailing stereotypes of the season and actually feels like Christmas!

If you look, there are signs of the ‘Christmas’ story everywhere. Although France is not perhaps as strongly religious as it once was, churches are everywhere and most are lovingly maintained, in the smallest of hamlets as much as in the cities.

In the tiny hamlet of St Salvayre, accessed by country lane above Alet-les Bains,  the church is open.

In Carcassonne, a church opens its doors to all-comers to view the dedicated nativity scene set up for the Christmas period. You can’t help but emerge joyful.

France (and probably most of Europe) also ‘does’ Christmas far more comprehensively than New Zealand in my observation. The Christmas markets are a serious business, and a lot of planning, resources and loving effort are put into the decorations. The Christmas market in Quillan filled the gymnasium and surrounding car park with art, craft and specialty food stalls, with a visit from Father Christmas and local bands playing. It was packed.

  The Christmas markets and skating rink in the Place Carnot, Carcassonne.

Christmas rides for Children and a visit to Santa’s grotto in Toulouse, with Christmas market in the Place du Capitole.

Christmas decorations in Quillan – it took a crew 6 weeks to complete all the technical preparations and to install them before they could be successfully turned on.

Even the Cafe du Fleuve got into the spirit, not just with common garden decorations, but with a whole garden of fir trees. Cheery in the cold.

How would Father Christmas find us, Nick wondered, being away from our usual home? Fortunately Santa was spotted flying on his clementine sleigh, on his way over Africa…

We headed off  for our Christmas holidays as soon as school finished, staying with friends in the Vaucluse – the heart of Peter Mayle territory – on our way further East.

The boys raise and decorate our friends Christmas tree in the Vaucluse in the welcome warmth of a roaring fire – better than an unreliable boiler!

Pretty wreaths mark Christmas on doors in Provence.

Christmas clementines, pretty as a picture at the market on the etang de Cucuron featured in Russell Crowe’s ‘A Good Year’.

We were very privileged to be able to spend Christmas itself with long-standing French friends in the northern Jura, in a small village close to the Swiss Border. This is a village that once centred on farming. The famed Comte cheese was produced in the farm nearby. Cows graze in the fields, to a chorus of cowbells. Our friends’ family have owned a house here in the village since 1977 and have gradually restored the house and barn. Formerly the family holiday home, it’s now lived in permanently, and wider family gather for holidays.

The farmhouse, at left, seen from below.

Here, the spirit of Christmas is alive and well, and decorations are also taken seriously. Handmade trees, wreaths, strong lights and decorations adorn every surface to which various family members have contributed.

A traditional creche, and Christmas village nestle under the Christmas tree.

On Christmas Eve, the queue for the buche de noel and Christmas bread orders was out of the door and round the corner of the local boulangerie! Fresh batches of buches of all types were being brought out every few minutes to meet demand.

The church in neighbouring Orchamps-Vennes had been lovingly decorated by local school children. Children, dressed as traditional shepherds, played a part in the Christmas Eve service.

Following local tradition, after the Christmas Eve service, and a light (and late) meal, we placed our shoes under the tree on Christmas Eve, in the hopes of a visit from Saint Nicholas. On Christmas morning – only after the cowbell had been rung – first the children, then the adults, opened their presents.With ten ‘children’ ranging in age from 3 to 18, and eight adults, it was a squeeze but everybody seemed to find the right pile.

On Christmas Day, catering was for 23 including visiting cousins. A folding table and benches were rented from the Mairie for the princely sum of three euros. The children were accommodated at one table, and the adults at another, no problem. The dining table stretched the length of the dining and living area.

We were treated to all the French delicacies and local specialties, lovingly prepared by various members of the family.

   Turkey with all the trimmings for Christmas Day dinner. Chestnuts, baked apples.

After a long pause to digest the main course – dessert! I regret that I did not have the wit or wherewithal to contribute pavlovas.

Snails by the dozen for Christmas eve dinner.

Extracting the homemade terrines from their dishes.

Terrine and salads, with cheese puffs for Christmas Day evening meal.

Shucking the oysters.

Oysters eaten raw by the dozen with a squirt of lemon, butter and special rounds of bread.

Tarte pralinee from Lyon.

On Boxing Day, in recovery, a few of us went to visit the most incredible, detailed nativity scene, set up in the church at Morteau. It’s an itinerant Swiss nativity scene, for the first time on display in France. The amount of work involved is mind blowing.

Amidst all the scenes of life in the Middle East, lovingly crafted by hand, the traditional creche scene.

And now, back ‘home’ in Quillan, thanks to friends for their generous hospitality, and ‘Bonne Annee’ from us to all of you.

7 thoughts on “A French Christmas 

  1. Lolo

    “Although France is not perhaps as strongly religious as it once was” – You certainly don’t need to say it in carefully chosen phrases, nobody here would get it wrong : France might be the most unreligious country in the world nowadays ! Once “fille aînée de l’Eglise”, it’s now “fille aînée de l’athéisme”. And I dare say most people are quite happy about it.
    Nice blog though, I like to follow your french adventures, being french and leaving in France myself 🙂
    Bonne continuation !

  2. margaret21

    One of the things I like best about a French Christmas is that it’s just that. It doesn’t begin in October, or worse, September, as it’s prone to do in the UK. I remember attempting to do some Christmas shopping in early December in Mirepoix Market. ‘Hmm’ objected the stall-holder, ”it’s a bit early, isn’t it?’

  3. Nadia

    À french Christmas is so much more festive than most Southern Hemisphere christmases. I know because I lived in South Africa for 25 years.

  4. Jill S

    Loving your blog. Stayed in Taurize last summer and fell in love with the whole area. Might have to pop down to your neck of the woods this year!


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